Feast of All Norbertine Saints
by Fr. Chrysostom Baer, O.Praem.
The rest of that conversation went something like this:
“Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.’”
The rich young man squinted at Him for a good long while and then said, “What do You mean by ‘perfect’?”
Jesus answered him, “Something is perfect in whatever way it is joined to its perfection. The human soul clings to God, its perfection, through charity, by loving Him, choosing Him as its final end, its true and only goal. This can happen in two ways. First, when all the soul’s actions actually refer to God and it knows Him as He is knowable. This is in heaven, in the perfection of our homeland, when all our desires will be at perfect rest.”
The rich young man replied, “That’s not the perfection You’re talking about, because You said to follow You. But following implies motion, which is precisely inasmuch as something is not at rest.”
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and answered, “Correct. You are now on the way to heaven, and so the perfection of your soul consists in following God, in one of two ways. First, when in no way you desire in your heart what is contrary to God, but rather you habitually order your whole life to Him. That is why I told you that if you wanted to enter into life you need to keep the commandments. It is the common way of salvation that all men and women are bound to follow.”
The young man thought about this and said, “But You weren’t talking about this perfection either because You went on to say further that if I want to be perfect, to sell everything, give to the poor, and follow You. There is therefore another kind of perfection.”
Jesus held him in His eyes for a while and replied, “You are correct. Some people I invite to a more intense way, a closer following of Me in this life. This is the perfection I meant. You have to remove the love of all temporal things from your heart. It’s more like what you would be like in heaven, and it makes it easier for you to seek God with all your heart now. For as much as cupidity decreases, so much the more does charity increase. Do you wish to be perfect?”
And the young man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
That may be what perfection means, but let’s ask ourselves the question again slightly differently. Not, “Do you wish to be perfect? But, “Do we—do you—do I wish, really want, to be perfect? It’s not a question we answered on the day of our solemn profession and then put away. It’s something we have to answer every morning when we get up. Do I want to be perfect by letting go of everything and following Christ today? Perhaps the concrete elimination of extraneous goods is made easier by this move. Let’s hope so. The opportunity is not soon to repeat itself.
This is the feast of all Norbertine saints. They met this challenge, they answered this question in the affirmative not so much because perfection was offered with all of its intellectual satisfaction but because they loved Christ Jesus. They wanted to be with Him always: now as much as possible, as well as in heaven. Love will do that. The vows, religious observance, detachment, and mortification are all to foster our love of Him. Through their intercession, may our hearts more than wish, more than want, but burn so ferociously with longing to be with Christ Jesus that we find our treasure and happiness and perfection only in following Him.
It can be an uncomfortable experience when we’ve “put in our place,” reminded of our lower status, that we are not always in charge. This is what appears to be happening in the daunting scenario Jesus proposes to His apostles today.
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